Josh Blanek

A well-designed landscape is a pleasure to the home owner, enhances a neighborhood and community and adds to the property’s resale value. However, landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

Americans spend a tremendous amount of money “landscaping” their businesses, homes, streets, parks, schools, etc. Much of this money is wasted, however, because of little or no planning. Plants end up dying, trees and shrubs get to big and crowded. People cannot understand how to landscape until they know why they landscape. There are several reasons why people “landscape”: some think it improves the appearance of their place; others like to grow plants; still others just want their place to look pretty. Too often these landscapes dominate rather than serve. Masses of plants or other materials in the landscape may take up a large portion of the space and leave little room for people.

Then how does the designer arrange space so that people will find it useful, beautiful, meaningful and functional? His methods include observing and analyzing the habits of the people who will be using the space, including their needs, desires and how much space each of their activities requires. Studying past methods that have worked or have not worked. Surveying and researching available materials to solve design requirements. And analyzing the environment of the site including the view in and around the site. The ecology of the site should be carefully analyzed since it is an important design determinant.

Not all landscaping improves the appearance of a building. The work of an over insensitive landscape can subdue a building, conceal important features or contradict the architect’s intent. Good landscape design can significantly improve the building’s appearance by adding warmth, livability and personality. It can also relate a building to its site and environment and give it the desired degree of dominance.

Growth and change separate landscape designs from other arts. Most works of art such as architecture, sculpture and painting look their best when new. Landscape designs, however, are at their worst when new and improve with age. A well-designed landscape will seldom look the same any two months of the year.

The temptation to begin planting immediately is almost overwhelming. Whether you are landscaping a newly-built home or redesigning an existing landscape, the results will be much more satisfying if you plan first. Ideally, you should consult a professional landscape architect on planning, but you can produce good results if you follow these steps.

First, come up with a base plan. Draw a base plan. Graph paper with lines indicating a particular scale may also be helpful. Include all major features on your drawing such as existing walks, terraces, outbuildings, trees, shrubs, drives, property lines, easements, utilities, etc. After preparing the base plan, place tracing paper or tissue paper over the original plan to sketch possible ideas and solutions to your landscape needs and problems. Always indicate compass directions in relation to the house by drawing an arrow (N->) pointing north. You may also want to show the direction of the rising sun. In winter, the sun rises a little south of east and sets a little south of west. In summer, the sun rises somewhat north of east and sets somewhat north of west.

Second, list your needs. These needs may include a driveway and turnaround space, off-street parking, play space for children, an outdoor living area, a vegetable garden, privacy from certain areas, windbreaks, etc. There are usually several ways of satisfying every need, and you must decide on the most appropriate one for you. The most satisfying landscapes are both practical and beautiful.

Third, study your site. The piece of land you live on is generally referred to as the site. Ideally the selection of the site, placement and design of the house and the landscape development should all be done at the same time. Selecting a site without having some idea of the type of house and landscape development you want would be difficult.

Next, diagram and place space needs. Don’t forget areas like outdoor work areas, children play spaces, driveways and walkways to front and rear entrances and outdoor living areas.

Fifth, choose your materials. Sometimes non-living materials such as fences are a better choice than living materials such as a hedge. Both materials should provide privacy, but the hedge may require considerable time to grow where the fence provides immediate privacy. Also, if space is limited a fence may be the best solution. Maintenance is also frequently a concern. Usually non-living materials (brick, wood, etc.) require less maintenance than living materials which may require watering, trimming, etc.

Next, decide on your plants. Living trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, annuals and perennials are usually the most important materials in landscaping. Their selection, placement and maintenance are the main criteria the layman uses to evaluate landscape work. It is extremely important, therefore, to select plants that will serve the function as dependably as possible. For every landscape need there are numerous plants to choose from.

Then, use landscape construction. Although most people evaluate the success of a landscape development in terms of the selection and condition of the plant materials, most really well-designed landscapes contain a good balance of construction and plant materials. Carefully designed and executed paved surfaces, fences, walls, overhead structures and edging materials are not only attractive but also reduce routine maintenance. If possible, when selecting building materials for the landscape, repeat materials and colors already used on the home. Weathered wood, natural stains, concrete and earth tones in brick will usually blend with existing construction materials and relate to the natural environment.

And finally, add landscape accessories. Landscape accessories are details which may have no functional purpose, such as surfacing or enclosure, but do have definite visual effects. Accessories also help express individual tastes and preferences. Major accessories, however, should not be afterthoughts; they should be planned as the design evolves. Accessories add character and dimension to a garden, but poorly selected and placed accessories may spoil an otherwise well-designed landscape. Garden furniture offers a real opportunity to add utility, color and beauty to the landscape. An interesting piece of driftwood, tree roots or limbs, boulders or rocks provide interesting substitutes for good sculpture. These items are easily blended with the design and may be readily available. Birdbaths are often used in home landscapes. To be useful they should be shallow, not exceeding 1 1/2 inches in depth, and contain fresh water. Bird houses and feeders should also be selected on the criteria discussed earlier. Other accessories, such as stained glass, relief sculpture, outdoor chandeliers and plant containers are finding their way into the well-designed landscape. A stained glass window, partially enclosed in an outdoor area, or a burning outdoor chandelier may be added for interest, illumination and possible insect-repelling qualities. Hanging or conventional container plants can add a great deal of interest. With the current trend to return to natural materials and handmade workmanship there is an almost limitless variety of accessories available for our use. The temptation to “overdo” has never been greater. Like other fine things, garden accessories should be used with considerable restraint. Outdoor lighting can add a great deal to the attractiveness and usefulness of the landscape. Good landscaping is a major investment in time and money. Many people feel that they obtain double enjoyment by including well-designed outdoor lighting to increase the hours of pleasure from their outdoor environment.

I hope this will provide some useful tips on your next landscape design project. The Somervell County Master Gardener Association will start the 2009 educational series off with a landscape design seminar at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12, at the Somervell County Citizens center. For more information contact the Somervell County Extension office at 254-897-2809.